2009: the year in gardening


UPDATE: CONGRATULATIONS to Ginny Stibolt, randomly chosen to receive the Flowerdew book—which is a really cool big illustrated volume from Mitchell Beasley, the company that did the Pavord bulb book. And thanks again to those who helped me with these picks. 

Overall, it was a good year, with an explosion in vegetable gardening, and a renewed emphasis on sustainable gardening and sustainable living, period. But will there be a lasting impact? Is it all just hype that will quickly fade? I don’t really know, but after looking at Ranter posts from the last year, and soliciting the help of fellow garden bloggers Idaho Gardener, May Dreams Gardens, Red Dirt Ramblings, and Mrs. McGregor’s Daughter, I have compiled a list of the good, the bad, and the sort of ugly from 2009, sorting them into instances of WIN and FAIL.

WIN: Over 7 million NEW households joined the edible (vegetables, herbs, and fruit) gardening movement in 2009, according to the Garden Writer’s Association Foundation’s annual trends survey.

WIN: In an inspirational move, Michelle Obama plants a vegetable garden at the White House, aiming to encourage healthy eating and to educate kids about where their food comes from.  

FAIL:  At the same time, American newspapers and magazines, long a major resource for seasonal and regional gardening information, had a tough year. 428 magazines folded (about twice the number that launched), including many home and garden titles. Garden writers lost their jobs as either their newspaper folded or they were laid off.  Notably, NPR, an island of subsidized stability in the scary world of traditional media, laid off its garden correspondent Ketzel Levine.

FAIL:  Late blight affects tomato and other food crops throughout the Northeast, but the unkindest cut may be when some agricultural observers blame it on the increased numbers of home vegetable gardeners, claiming they were unknowingly buying infected plants from big boxes and not seeing the problems.

WIN: Chickens become the new pugs, as coop tours and support associations proliferate for newbie urban chicken owners. In a fight I personally witnessed, Buffalo legalizes city chicken keeping; cities across America become friendlier to chickens, urban farms, and other means of urban home food production. In Buffalo, we even have aquaponics—tomatoes and tilapia growing in the same strawbale greenhouse.

WIN: Bloggers gain recognition as a force to be reckoned with in garden media, with companies such as Botanical Interests, Proven Winners, Cobrahead, Fiskars, Troy-Bilt, and Timber Press reaching out to bloggers and other social media to facilitate honest public discussions of their products.

FAIL: Gardeners still don't get much respect in the big bookstore chains (the gardening books are by the restrooms in Barnes and Noble and most of them are about cannabis anyway), garden centers still carry too many useless (and tacky) tchotchkies, and garden bloggers still lack their own bloggie category.

FAIL: Greenwashing becomes a common marketing tool, as companies figure they can continue to sell quick-fix sprays and potions, as long as they’re “natural.” The point they miss is that sustainable gardening depends on long-term changes in the way we garden, not just a new spray to aim.

WIN: Nonetheless, we are getting more sustainable. We’re starting to care more about producing delicious food than emerald-green lawns, and even native plants are gaining some traction as team players in the perennial garden.

Despite the serious crop problems I’ve noted, it was a good year for gardeners in many ways, and it’s getting better every year for garden bloggers. Thank you for reading, and please add your own WINS and FAILS in comments. I will be choosing from them and sending the winner a free copy of Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own by Bob Flowerdew—our final giveaway for the year. I will choose a winner Friday at 1 p.m.

Happy New Year! 

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. FAIL: The NC Arboretum fired its Director of Horticulture and a good part of the gardening staff as a budget cutting measure within the state university system. The NC Arboretum kept all of its top heavy managment and foundation staff, you know those employees who are directly responsible for the actual conditions of the gardens people come to visit.

    WIN: A group of wacky and dedicated gardeners teamed up with local business to put on the first annual West Asheville Garden Stroll. The stroll was dominated by gardener’s gardens, not landscapes and featured plenty of urban food production, two community gardens and a high component of art in the garden. The turnout for this fist event was exceptional.

  2. A WIN for those who have been gardening sustainably for years. They are finally getting the respect they justly deserve.

  3. While regional flower shows keep going under (or consolidating), little local plant swaps and events keep springing up via community gardens and online message boards. A local community garden in Decatur, GA has hosted backyard chicken coop workshops, vegetable garden demonstrations and provided inspiration for developing our own neighborhood’s community garden. Seems like a win to me. 🙂

  4. WIN: Last year it looked like the 2009 San Francisco Flower & Garden Show would be the last, but new owners came to the rescue and are making some changes that so far seem to be very promising.

    FAIL: Schools that offer horticulture and landscaping classes such as Merritt College in Oakland are having to cut classes thanks to cutbacks throughout the school systems.

  5. I have a win – it may seem small to some, but it was a difficult challenge.

    My goal was to teach people how to feed the hungry this year. I ripped out my front lawn to plant a veggie garden then blogged about it all season on both my garden blog and my greening blog – gardeningnude dot com.

    And ultimately I partnered with a chef too – we published recipes utilizing the fresh veggies I grew to teach people how to feed their family’s for under $12 each meal.

    That’s just the beginning of all the things I did in 2009 – probably the most challenging year I have ever had and also, without a doubt the most rewarding and satisfying year of my life.

    I posted a series of photos about my crazy year on my blog today (gardeningnude dot com) if you want to take a look.

    Please – if you can – send me a note and let me know your ideas on what else I can do in 2010 to bring food to the hungry and help build my community.

    By the way, you are all so supportive and wonderful – I love being a part of the garden community.


  6. WIN: Some college students “get it” and are using their energy and enthusiasm to promote green issues. I met one such group at the University of Florida, Gators for a Sustainable Campus. These young men and women give me hope for the future. You can read my article about them here: http://www.sky-bolt.com/gators.htm

    I second the first comment: Kudos to you Garden Ranters and all your readers for bringing up and fully discussing important gardening and landscaping issues of the day. I just loved the discussion the other day with Linda Chalker-Scott on the science of organic vs artificial chemical fertilizers.

    And a greener New Year to all!

  7. WIN: This was a year that people reflected on what was really important and decided how they could make a difference in their own backyards (no pun intended ;->). Everywhere you looked, we saw community activism, whether it was people rallying together to get more community gardens in their neighborhoods, organizing town green fests or planting veggie gardens to feed the hungry. We got chicken coops approved in my town as people came out in droves to to help get that law passed. It is always inspiring to see how people can support each other even during such a challenging time.

  8. A definite win here at GardenRant? All our awesome guest posters. SO awesome (and ranty) that 6 of our top 10 rants of the year were by guests.
    All to be revealed tomorrow a.m.

  9. This is an inspiration. I am taking a degree in business with an emphasis in environmental sustainability. When I see people actively sustaining both themselves and the environment, I know I will not be alone in attempting to make a difference both for the community and for Mother Earth.

    I am on full scholarship from a grant I received from ToysPeriod. They sponsor several students every year at Linda Christas College. I was just fortunate to be one of those chosen this year.

    With the scholarship comes a great degree of personal responsibility, and I intend to live up to the faith ToysPeriod has invested in me.

    I will be reading your blog from now on now that I have found it.

    Wonderfully inspiring.

  10. THE BIGGEST FAIL?: the White House veggie garden. Anyone ever see any O’Bama with dirt on their hands? Photo op after photo op placating to the masses that “What the O’s do is good and we should all follow the lead” What lead? Big O won’t even put his name on the health care bill. Call that leadership? I have more respect for Howard Dean who stampeded aginst it. He is 180* to the left of me. I have utmost respect for his independence of the party line to actaully stand for something instead of in front of somethiing just beacuse a camera is flashing.

    For 2010: let’s get our hands dirty growing this grass roots movement of localism and let every town once agin have a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker! Leave the O’s and other Washingtonians to their emperors new clothes existence.

    The TROLL

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